Gonzalez Seeks Guilty Plea Withdrawal

Heartland Breach Mastermind Says He Acted as Government Agent

By , April 11, 2011.
Gonzalez Seeks Guilty Plea Withdrawal

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See Also: Fighting Financial Fraud: Mitigation for Malware, Phishing & DDoS Attacks

onvicted Heartland Payment Systems hacker Albert Gonzalez says the government made him do it; that is stealing 130 million credit and debit card numbers from companies such as Heartland Payment Systems, retailers TJX and Office Max and restaurant chain Dave & Busters.

In a habeas corpus petition, filed in March in federal district court in Massachusetts, Gonzalez seeks to overturn his conviction and 20-year sentence (see Heartland Hacker Sentenced to 20 Years), maintaining he committed his crimes with the knowledge of his Secret Service handlers.

The 25-page petition also argues his lawyers mishandled his case by not discussing with him the presentation of a public authority defense, in which the defendant argues that a crime was committed with the approval of government officials.

In the petition, first reported by Wired, Gonzalez contends as a government informer he was made to feel as if he were part of the Secret Service team. "They treated me like one of their own and I began to feel like part of the Secret Service agency," Gonzalez wrote in the petition.

He contends that when he pointed out that something he was asked to do was illegal, his handlers told him: "Don't worry, we got your back." He said he would do anything they asked." I was overwhelmed and felt like I could do no wrong," he wrote.

The Secret Service declined to comment on Gonzalez's petition.

Formerly of Miami, Gonzalez pled guilty to breaking into the computer networks of major retailers and the payment processor Heartland. The Heartland hack alone is estimated to have impacted 130 million credit and debit cards. His crimes cost companies, banks and insurers nearly $200 million, the Department of Justice says. His sentence is the longest ever meted out for computer crime in a U.S. court.

Authorities said that during his crime spree from 2003 to 2008, Gonzalez collected a small fortune of $2.8 million, which he used to buy an apartment in Miami, a car, Rolex watches and a Tiffany ring for his girlfriend. After Gonzalez' arrest, federal investigators found more than $1 million in cash buried in a barrel in his parent's backyard in Florida.

Follow Eric Chabrow on Twitter: @GovInfoSecurity

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